Wednesday, July 14, 2010

...I Ate What?

... I ate what?
By: Chef Cristian Feher

After watching The Land Before Time for the hundreth time, my seven year old asked me today, "Do you cook Dinosaur meat for your customers?" And while I normally would have smiled and pinched her cheeks, this question made me think for a minute. And surprisingly, the answer was "Yes!". Many of our foods have very interesting origins, and some are derived from sources you would never expect. This thought entertained me for the rest of the day and I began to do a little research - sort of tracking down a long lost family tree - on the quirky foods that we eat. Some of you may find this disturbing, but I hope that most of you will find this as interesting as I did.

Dinosaurs - A long time ago, the Earth was filled with dinosaurs. They roamed what are now our oceans, swam what are now our deserts and flew in our skies. Then a large explosion wiped them out. Fast forward a few years later (a few million to be exact). The planet's continents shifted and buried much of the dinosaur leftovers in underground pockets where they fermented for a long time and turned into a thick, flammable, black viscous carbon liquid. Then a Texan shot a hole into the ground, and "Yeehaw!" petroleum was discovered. It was taken to a factory where it was turned into a thousand different things. And many of these you actually eat. Take propylene glycol. It's a clear, colorless liquid with a semi-sweet taste. We use it as an agent to keep foods moist (like in dog food, some frozen fries, and fast food burger buns) it's also used as the main liquid which holds artificial food flavors and dyes. So any food made with artificial flavor or smell, has propylene glycol in it. It's also used as antifreeze for your car, in pharmaceuticals, and interestingly enough, it's used to stop cattle from losing weight (I will write another article on this specific topic) From petroleum we also get vitamin capsules, food preservatives, and glycerin (used in shampoo, drugs, toothpaste, and the production of citric acid in juices). And that's the short answer of how we eat dinosaurs on a daily basis.

Bacteria Poop - Most people would be appalled at the though of eating bacteria poop. You probably think of horrible things happening, like food poisoning and digestive problems. But the truth is that you eat quite a bit of bacteria poop and it's actually harmless. Take xantham gum for example. This substance is the bi-product (poop) of bacteria that like to eat corn. In goes the corn, out comes a thick, slimy substance which is then dried, turned into powder and then added to salad dressings, sauces, sodas, ice cream and many more foods. It's used to thicken foods, or keep a mixture of food uniform. I actually use this to thicken sauces for customers that demand a low carb, or gluten-free menu. It works much like corn starch, but without the calories.

Bee Saliva - You probably guessed this one. Yes it's honey. And here is why you might find it less appealing. The worker bee flies out, sucks the nectar out of flowers and flies back to the hive. He then regurgitates a mixture of flower nectar, digestive juices and saliva out into the honey combs. But it's not over yet, because the worker bee will swallow and regurgitate the honey a few more times just to make sure it's partially digested - or, in bee-terms "it's just right!".

Pig Skin and Cow Hooves - You probably guessed that I'm talking about hot dogs. But you you didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you? I'm actually talking about gelatin. Gelatin is made from the collagen that is boiled out of the animal's bones, skin and connective tissues. It's then refined, the meaty flavor is taken out, and it's turned into a crystalline powder. We then take some dinosaur-based flavoring and food colors, and make it into our favorite jiggly treat - Jello!

Ground Up Bugs - Although the average person eats a few pounds of insects every year, through produce, processed cereals and even while you sleep, I am referring to something in particular - Carmine based food coloring. Carmine or Natural Red #4 is actually made from crushed cochineal beetles. This is found in juices, ice cream, and candy. If it's red, pink or purple, chances are that it has crushed up bugs in it!

Hopefully I haven't spoiled your appetite. I find that it's always better to know, and just remember what grandma used to tell you, "What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger." Or in the case of my grandfather, "It's all protein in the end!" Thanks grandpa.

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